2017 Audi A5 and S5 First Drive
Playing leapfrog with giants is hard
Standing on the shoulders of giants allows us to see far, indeed, but playing leapfrog with giants can be next to impossible. Case in point: the new 2017 Audi A5 and its sporty S5 variant. The original A5 was designed by Walter de Silva, who described it as the most beautiful car he ever penned. Even today, nearly 10 years on, the design holds up well. Trying—and not quite managing—to clear the shoulders of the previous A5 in a single bound, the newest A5 does not fare so well in the eyes of the aesthete.
From its pinched, lemon-sucking nose to the multi-straked hood, the new A5 gives a busy first impression. Along the side, the previous A5's sensuous curves echo in the creased character line—but that crease is too sharp, casting a severe, overhanging shadow, especially where it is formed by the cutline of the hood. The greenhouse profile and rear three-quarters offer shades of the new Camaro; this is probably not a good thing for a premium-targeted sport coupe. The swell of the body over the fenders, however, works quite well, especially on the S5, and bodes well for the wider, even raunchier RS5 to come (and it is coming). In short, it feels like every detail was designed in a vacuum, without an eye for how it all comes together.
None of this is to say the new A5 is an ugly car, or one that will be likely to drive away fans. Rather, the new A5 is a perfectly good-looking car that has the marked misfortune of following a gorgeous one. Inside, however, the story is fortunately different. The A5 reflects the new A4's tech-focused look precisely yet somehow retains a kind of warmth that's often lacking in German car interiors. Is it on par with the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class in design and premium feel? No, but neither is the BMW 3 Series—or any other car in the segment—and what the Audi may lack in expressive design, it makes up for with cutting-edge tech.
Like the TT, R8, and A4 before it, the A5 gets Audi's new driver-centric instrument panel display, which allows the entire cluster to be reconfigured to show Google Earth-driven navigation data, performance instruments, and more. A HUD display relays those directions right into the driver's line of sight. For those desiring a more conventional arrangement of information, the center display can handle navigation and media duties, as well.
But the A5 and S5 are luxury coupes—so it's not just about how they look and the gadgets inside. How they drive is important, too. Here, the base A5 ticks most of the right boxes but leaves the driver a bit underwhelmed. The 252-hp, 273-lb-ft 2.0-liter TFSI turbocharged four-cylinder engine is punchy, with ample torque throughout the rev range, making it an easy car to drive quickly. Both the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission in the A5 and the eight-speed paddle-shifted automatic transmission in the 3.0-liter TFSI V6-powered S5 are quick, smart, and as hiccup-free as any on the market. The Quattro all-wheel-drive system vectors torque and offers a self-locking center differential that ensures great all-weather forward traction.
On the handling side, the A5 is a bit numb on the front end. Steering feel exists but is essentially nondescriptive; it just imparts a sense of weight rather than any idea of how much grip remains as the tires build toward the adhesion limit. The linearity of the buildup during cornering feels synthetic, unnatural. The chassis is stiff, the suspension relatively compliant (especially on the smaller 18-inch wheel/tire combo), and ride quality is good while controlling body roll. All of these add up to a car that will thrash a curvy road with aplomb at very brisk speeds, but without the spirited joy of a true sport coupe.
Dynamic mode makes the ride harsher without a perceptible improvement in actual vehicle dynamics—a typical move for modern sport and luxury coupes, based on customer focus-grouping rather than performance. Likewise, the transmission in Dynamic mode can deliver the occasional harsh, oddly timed shift. Fortunately, you're not limited to a simple three-mode buffet; you can build the Individual mode to suit your tastes, dialing in drivetrain, suspension, and other settings independently.
The S5's front end is much livelier, and steering feel is more natural and more communicative of both the road surface and the build/fall of grip levels. The overall balance feels more neutral than in the A5, like the car will gradually release with all four corners past the limit, rather than the nose letting go first, and terminally, as in the A5.
Like the A5's four-cylinder, the S5's V-6 engine is strong, with good mid-range acceleration and on-demand torque (max torque of 369 lb-ft arrives at just 1,370 rpm), but ultimately lacks the frenetic surge of power you might expect from a car with a 354-hp rating, despite an estimated 4.5-second 0-60 mph time. As more than one colleague put it, the S5's engine lacks personality. But again, tech makes up for anything that is missing: The new S5's 3.0-liter TFSI V-6 uses a "hot V" setup that integrates the exhaust manifolds into the heads and mounts a single, rather large turbo on top of the engine between them. The engineering is brilliant, both in terms of thermal management and packaging, and is what enables the S5's always-on-tap torque.
If any of this makes it sound like the A5 and S5 are in any way boring cars—or cars that you'd be anything but perfectly happy to wake up to every morning—chalk it up to slightly dashed hopes, because both variants of the new Audi coupe are smart, fun, and extremely capable. Compared to the previous A5, the new car is a much better handler, even if it still isn't a stunner of a performance coupe. It's also lighter by up to 132 pounds, depending on the trim package in Europe; what we get here in the U.S. may alter that figure. And it is stiffer, more aerodynamic, and packed full of better technology, driver aids, and much-improved engines.
It's just that in the world of the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the new Cadillac ATS, and even the new Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang, it's become the norm to expect more than just a good-looking coupe that's packed with technology and easy to drive in the daily grind. We've come to expect cars that carve canyons like a chainsaw artist at a lumberjacking festival, without forgetting about the grocery list or the three-piece suit in the closet at home. But, then, there's always the RS5 …
2017 Audi A5/S5 Specifications
|On Sale:||Spring 2017|
|Price:||$42,000/$54,500 (base) (est)|
|Engines:||2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/252 hp @ 5,000-6,000 rpm,
273 lb-ft @ 1,600-4,500 rpm;
3.0L turbocharged DOHC 24-valve V-6/354 hp @ 5,400-6,400 rpm,
369 lb-ft @ 1,370-4,500rpm
|Transmissions:||7-speed dual-clutch/8-speed automatic|
|Layout:||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, AWD coupe|
|L x W x H:||184.0/184.7 x 72.7 x 54/53.9 in|
|Weight:||3,307/3,560 lb (European spec)|
|0-60 MPH:||5.6/4.5 sec (est)|
|Top Speed:||155 mph|